Bad News Applies a Little Downward Pressure on Stocks

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The major equity indices continued to hang around like those kids in

Eric Bogosian's

subUrbia

, just waiting for something to come along and really shake them one way or the other.

A surprisingly strong September

retail sales

report couldn't do it. The 0.3% increase in the overall figure weakened the bond market, with the yield on the bellwether 30-year Treasury rising to 6.40%, but that yield number didn't much frighten stock investors. The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

lost 38.31 to 8057.98 and the broad

S&P 500

gave up 4.56 to 965.72.

A surprisingly low third-quarter earnings figure from

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

couldn't do it either. The tech-slathered

Nasdaq Composite Index

did slide 9.49 to 1723.30, but Intel's drop of 5 1/16 to 86 11/16 (and

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

decline of 15/16 to 135 3/4) had a lot to do with that. The small-cap

Russell 2000

fell 1.23 to 462.74.

Market internals were anemic but hardly catastrophic.

New York Stock Exchange

decliners beat advancers by 1,189 to 1,641 on 506.9 million shares. On the Nasdaq, 2,492 decliners led 1,971 advancers on 834.2 million shares (including 66.3 million Intel shares).

It was a downside day, no question, but not one that turned bulls to bears and sent bears to their fallout shelters. "The stock market is really just holding in like a rock," said Grace Messner, head of equity management at

Wilmington Trust

in Delaware. "Every time it tries to go down, it comes right back. People get a little worried one day and start to hop out, and then they say, 'Wait a minute, just because it's up doesn't mean it has to fall through the floor.' "

Larry Rice, chief market strategist at

Josephthal Lyon & Ross

, pointed out that the Dow is starting to show better relative strength than some of the broader market measures, a shift away from the situation that's prevailed since the summer. Further, the

Dow Jones Transportation Average

surged 41.58 to a record 3359.27 behind strong airline earnings prospects. "That suggests the Dow will make a new high unless there's something shocking in the CPI, which I don't see," Rice said. The September

Consumer Price Index

is set for release tomorrow.

Messner doesn't see a big equity ramp-up in the near future, however, instead predicting a continuation of the current benign stasis. "I think the only that could break it out is some definitive shift in the economic data, and it would take a while before that could even become known," she said.

Wednesday's market action

(earnings estimates from

First Call

):

The belle of the telecom ball,

MCI

(MCIC)

, added yet another suitor to its crowded dance card as

GTE

(GTE) - Get Report

reportedly prepared to make an all-cash bid of $37 to $38 per share ($25 billion).

Wall Street Journal

ace Steven Lipin broke the story via

Dow Jones News Service

at 12:40 p.m. EDT, pushing GTE down 2 3/16 to 48 before it was halted around 1:05. MCI, halted briefly and then reopened, gained 1 9/16 to 36 7/8.

WorldCom

(WCOM)

, which on Oct. 1 made an all-stock bid of $41.50 per share ($30 billion) for MCI, slid 1 3/8 to 35 7/16.

British Telecommunications

(BTY)

skidded 7/16 to 49 1/8 despite reporting third-quarter earnings of 90 cents per share, 7 cents better than the 20-analyst consensus estimate and up from the year-earlier 56 cents.

Compaq

(CPQ)

bounced 3 5/8 to 77 1/4 ahead of its third-quarter earnings report, set for tomorrow.

Merrill Lynch

boosted its 1997 and 1998 estimates on Compaq and set a 12-month price target of 100.

TheStreet.com

looked at CPQ options action in today's

Options Buzz.

Time Warner

(TWX)

climbed 2 3/8 to an all-time high of 57 1/4 after reporting a third-quarter loss of 19 cents per share, a penny better than the 22-analyst forecast and up from the year-ago 43-cent loss.

Splash Technology

(SPLH)

leapt 5, or 12.6%, to an all-time high of 44 3/4 after reporting late yesterday third-quarter earnings of 40 cents per share, 7 cents better than the three-analyst outlook and up from the year-ago 31 cents.

Viewlogic Systems

(VIEW)

punched up 2 11/16, or 12%, to a three-year high of 25 3/16 after

Synopsys

(SNPS) - Get Report

agreed to acquire the company in a $500 million stock deal. Synopsys lost 3 1/16 to 39 13/16.

MEMC Electronic Materials

(WFR)

lost 2 3/4, or 11%, to 22 1/4 after late

yesterday warning of a coming downside earnings report.

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

downgraded MEMC to neutral from outperform and

J.P. Morgan Securities

cut it to market performer from long-term buy.

Cummins Engine

(CUM)

surrendered 7 3/16, or 9%, to 72 7/16 after reporting third-quarter earnings of $1.40 per share. The nine-analyst view called for $1.45 versus the year-ago 67 cents.

As noted above, the airline sector zipped higher after

American Airlines

parent

AMR

(AMR)

reported third-quarter earnings of $3.55 per share. That beat the 12-analyst view by a big 25 cents and bettered the year-ago $3.06. AMR rose 15/16 to 119,

United Airlines

parent

UAL

(UAL) - Get Report

rose 5 7/16 to an all-time high of 99 13/16,

Delta Air Lines

(DAL) - Get Report

rose 2 5/16 to 106 15/16 and

US Airways

(U) - Get Report

rose 1 5/8 to 49 7/16.

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

powered up 2 1/4 to an all-time high of 83 1/8 after

PaineWebber

upped it to buy from neutral. The firm made the same change on

Bay Networks

(BAY)

, but it dropped 1 7/8 to 37 5/16. The loss came despite an upside earnings surprise late

yesterday.

Robertson Stephens

raised its fiscal 1998 and 1999 earnings estimates on Bay. (

TheStreet.com

looked at Wall Street's high expectations for Bay in a

story yesterday.)

Lucent Technologies

(LU)

was unchanged at 88 after agreeing to buy privately held

Livingston Enterprises

for $650 million in stock. Livingston makes computer networking equipment.

Barnes & Noble

(BKS) - Get Report

declined 2 7/8, or 9.1%, to 28 7/8 after

Furman Selz

cut it to neutral from buy and removed it from the recommended list.

TCI

(TCOMA)

ascended 11/16 to a three-year high of 23 11/16 on a

Wall Street Journal

report that Microsoft might invest $600 million to $1 billion in the company.

Physician Support Systems

(PHSS)

declined 1 1/2, or 8.4%, to 16 5/8 after

National Data

(NDC)

agreed to acquire the company in a pooling-of-interests merger. National Data lost 2 1/2 to 39 3/16.

Rambus

(RMBS) - Get Report

bounced 5 3/4, or 11%, to 58 7/16 on the strong earnings report it released late

yesterday.

Immunex

(IMNX)

increased 3 3/4 to 79 after reporting third-quarter earnings of 15 cents per share, beating the 10-analyst view of a 2-cent loss and the year-ago 27-cent loss.

Unisys

(UIS) - Get Report

was down 7/16 to 15 9/16 despite reporting third-quarter earnings of 13 cents per share, a penny better than the eight-analyst outlook and up from the year-ago loss of 9 cents.

NCR

(NCR) - Get Report

fell 2 5/16 to 35 5/8 after reporting a third-quarter loss of 9 cents per share, a penny ahead of the three-analyst expectation and up from the year-ago 32-cent loss. NCR also said it plans to restructure, eliminating 1,000 jobs next year.

Guidant

(GDT)

slid 4 1/2 to 60 after reporting third-quarter earnings of 33 cents per share, in line with the 22-analyst estimate and up from the year-earlier 29 cents.

Cognex

(CGNX) - Get Report

popped up 2 5/16 to 34 1/4 after reporting third-quarter earnings of 29 cents per share, a nickel better than the seven-analyst expectation and up from the year-ago 8 cents.

Pinnacle Financial Services

(PNFI)

was up 2 5/8 to an all-time high of 42 1/4 after it agreed to merge with

CNB Bancshares

(BNK)

in a $583 million deal. CNB sloughed off 2 9/16 to 42 3/16.

Advanta

(ADVNA)

advanced 1/2 to 36 7/8 after reporting third-quarter earnings of 92 cents per share, well up from the 18-analyst prediction but down from the year-ago 98 cents.

First Union

(FTU)

dipped 5/16 to 51 1/16 despite reporting third-quarter earnings of 90 cents per share, a cent better than the 25-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 81 cents.

Spectrian

(SPCT)

gained 2 7/8 to 49 1/4 after

Smith Barney

initiated coverage at buy.

P-Com

(PCMS)

, which the firm also started at buy, rose 5/8 to 28 9/16.

Powerwave Technologies

(PWAV)

, begun at outperform, slid 1 15/16 to 41 1/4.

PaineWebber's upgrades to neutral from sell didn't help

Alcoa

(AA) - Get Report

and

Reynolds Metals

(RLM) - Get Report

. Alcoa shed 9/16 to 80 7/16 and Reynolds was off 15/16 to 67.

Chancellor Media

(AMFM)

improved 1 1/4 to a post-offering high of 55 1/4 after

Credit Suisse First Boston

raised it to strong buy from buy.

MedPartners

(MDM)

rose 1 5/16 to 24 15/16 after Merrill Lynch upgraded it to near-term buy from accumulate and named it the focus stock of the week. Merrill maintained a long-term buy rating.

Nuevo Energy

(NEV) - Get Report

dimmed 2 1/2 to 42 1/2 after

PaineWebber

lowered it to attractive from buy.

Amway Asia Pacific

(AAP) - Get Report

gave up 1 3/16 to 28 3/4 after Merrill Lynch downgraded it to near-term neutral from accumulate, maintaining a long-term buy.

Staff reporter Dan Colarusso contributed to this story

.